Innovation All the Time

“We are trying to stretch ourselves and go beyond what other banks are doing.”  — Alex Jimenez, Rockland Trust Co.  Photo by Ken Richardson
“We are trying to stretch ourselves and go beyond what other banks are doing.” 
— Alex Jimenez, Rockland Trust Co.

Photo by Ken Richardson

Alex Jimenez explores new products and payments full time

By Karen Epper Hoffman

Even with technology’s increasing influence on retail banking, it’s not typical for a community bank to have one of its most senior and trusted executives concentrate primarily on leading consumer product and payments innovation. But then again, Rockland Trust Co. is not typical.

Alex Jimenez
Rockland Trust Co.
Rockland, Mass.
Assets: $7.2 billion
Retail offices: 85
Employees: 1,078
Chartered: 1907

The role of Alex Jimenez, senior vice president and director of digital and payments innovation at the $7.2 billion-asset, 85-branch community bank based in Rockland, Mass., has evolved over the years from operations oversight to overseeing operations and innovation. But now his current role is to focus entirely on developing forward-looking financial retail offerings, including mobile and online banking, card technologies and other emerging channels and devices.

“We are trying to stretch ourselves and go beyond what other banks are doing,” Jimenez explains.
Moving into his role to lead the innovation charge for Rockland Trust has been more than a half-dozen years in the making for Jimenez, who in 2008 was heading the bank’s deposit operations and call center teams. “We had just begun to really start talking about the digital space then,” he recalls.

Later, with digital banking and payments options flowering afield, his bosses decided he was being stretched too thin between deposit operations and digital strategy. So they divided Jimenez’s job into two, with another executive taking on the day-to-day role of deposits chief. Since April, his role has been entirely focused on exploring, and helping to implement when necessary, emerging opportunities in retail products and payments.

“We look at what our customers expect from us as a bank, and what they expect from the industry,” he says. “We’re not just competing with [megabanks and regional banks] or other community banks. We are also competing with [nonbank Internet payments and banking service providers such as] PayPal and LendingTree and Kabbage.”

Eyeing all rivals

If Rockland Trust doesn’t keep an eye on what all its potential bank and nonbank rivals are doing and “we just implement what our core provider tells us, we will get left behind, and we don’t want to do that,” Jimenez says.

Even though Rockland Trust is a relatively large and forward-thinking community bank, it does not always have the deep pockets and resources to be on the absolute cutting edge all the time, Jimenez adds. “We do want to be a fast follower, and we want to take more of a leading role in the future.”

And what do those fast-follower and leading roles for Rockland Trust look like?

To start, mobile banking has become essential for successful retail banking today, Jimenez says. “A few years ago many banks were not even thinking about mobile banking,” he points out. “Now, it’s table stakes for all banks.”

Rockland Trust launched mobile banking and mobile deposit options in 2011, taking an early lead over many of its largest competitors. Now, Jimenez points out, the banking and check-image deposit capture functions have merged so that mobile banking customers can make deposits through their device-based banking application. The bank now also offers online and mobile chat options.

“A few years ago many banks were not even thinking about mobile banking. Now, it’s table stakes for all banks.”
—Alex Jimenez, Rockland Trust Co.

Five years ago Rockland Trust introduced online account opening, and now it has a team entirely dedicated to the functionality of that process for on-boarding customers. Jimenez acknowledges that, at this point, only a fraction of bank’s consumer deposit accounts are being opened online, but it is an area seeing continual growth. The bank also energetically markets to and interacts with customers through social media, and it was named this year as one of ICBA’s leading member community banks in social media.

However, even in the face of all those new products the bank has introduced thus far, Jimenez realizes that tech-savvy customers will continue to demand more products and services as they become available. Consumers’ increasingly frequent and complex interactions with online and mobile commerce in general are shaping their expectations for their banking relationships to be better, richer and more flexible, he says.

Exploring current options

With that in mind, Rockland Trust is planning to add an online bank-by-appointment option, where customers can schedule visits to discuss more complex financial products (such as loans and investments or financial planning) to be more efficient. The bank also is considering plans to offer Apple Pay, Samsung Pay and Android Pay mobile payment offerings, which Jimenez says are growing quickly.

At the same time, Jimenez is looking even further afield, to opportunities for financial services and payments to be delivered through “wearables” such as watches and eyeglasses, or even clothing, which he sees are gaining “more traction.” He also is considering applications for cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ripple, and their underlying blockchain technology, which may have applications beyond virtual currency for customer-facing and internal uses.

To stay on top of the fray, Jimenez networks frequently with his peers in the retail-banking world throughout the United States, as well as abroad in Spain, the United Kingdom and other countries. He connects with “all sorts of vendors and FinTech companies with great ideas,” although admittedly, Rockland Trust only pursues relationships with about 5 percent of them, he adds.

While he is not afraid of entertaining any opportunity for Rockland Trust to offer a service that might be exceptionally early or edgy, Jimenez points out that he still needs to “understand the benefits to the customer before we go forward with an idea.

“We’re in an interesting place as community banks,” he says, “because we do really care about the customer experience, … and with digital channels and payments, there is not quite as much of a relationship. The challenge for us is how we translate what makes us different from the big boys into this space.”

Karen Epper Hoffman is a freelance financial writer in Washington state.